The thrum of the speedboat's engine carries through the water like an ice-cream truck's jingle. A 4-foot-high wake trails behind, fanning out into a fork as the speed increases and the passengers ready their cameras. Soon, a glistening fin breaks the surface. The first bottlenose dolphin seems to levitate on top of the wave while it bodysurfs for the sheer fun of it, then disappears back into the sea. Its pod follows suit, leaping, splashing, and riding the swells, soaking up the attention of the human spectators.
Sights like this are typical on the Dolphin Racer Speed Boat. The sunny yellow craft skirts across the Gulf of Mexico on 60- to 75-minute trips while up to 125 people lounge on the open deck and the captain narrates the sights of the passing beaches. Ample viewing space ensures that cameras can capture split-second jumps and spins when the dolphins heed the call to play. Whether it's because of the thrill of breaching, the pride in their celebrity status, or an underwater bet to see who can communicate with humans first, the dolphins' presence is virtually guaranteed—the boat offers a complimentary future cruise in the case of no-shows.
Looking out at the quiet, moonlit waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it’s impossible to know what’s on the line, other than that it’s big. Word has spread around the deep-sea-fishing boat, and now a crowd has gathered on either side of you. You pull the fishing pole back and guide whatever is snagged on the other end of the line nearer and nearer. The splashes gradually become louder. A few fellow fishermen help pull the creature onto the boat, and proudly hold the fish up for the crowd.
There are countless deep-sea-fishing tales like this one to be told at Hubbard’s Marina. During its many day or night fishing trips, its crew and guest fishermen board the US Coast Guard–certified vessels for excursions into the Gulf to reel in fish of all sizes. Not only does Hubbard's Marina offer fishing trips, but they also allow opportunities for people to visit and observe Florida wildlife in their natural habitat. Animals such as dolphins, pelicans,manatees, and bald eagles can bee seen from the boat. After cruises, visitors can go shopping along the picturesque boardwalk and enjoy the local culture and history in the quaint fishing village.
They also captain sunset cruises, dolphin-watching cruises, kayak tours, rent kayaks and paddle boards, and even take to the streets during segway tours.
In 1848, a great hurricane washed over Florida, blasting a passage through the sand of Madeira Beach. It would be first traveled by the pirate John Levique, whose legend would lend the inlet its name, Johns Pass. But Levique was not the only individual to make use of the pass. In what is now Boca Ciega Bay, travelers can make out the cresting fins of bottlenose dolphins and the slick backs of manatees. The sailors of Dolphin Quest strive to give their passengers up-close experiences with these creatures, embarking on 90-minute tours to seek out the elusive pods. The calm waters make for a pleasant ride as the Coast Guard-licensed captain and crew narrate, largely by way of free-verse shanty. On their journeys, passengers may also see frigate birds, osprey, and pelicans craning their necks from the mangroves.
Eric, Mitch, and Julie Audit head up a crew of "wannabe pirates and friends" at Island Life Charters. Their armada of kayaks are equipped with quiet electric motors, carries visitors out on self-guided excursions and tours, where they can take in views of mangrove trees teeming with birds, as well as manatees and dolphins. For a different boating experience entirely, the fleet's crown jewel is Islandicity, a 30-foot Chaparral boat that comfortably seats 12 passengers on a deck equipped with a powerful stereo system, a wet bar, and a Coast Guard-deterring scare-Poseidon.
By day, guests are busy watching sunsets or bottlenose dolphins during Incognito Adventures’ three excursions. The spacious boat, Incognito, includes the furnishings of a dream house: a curved lounge equipped with a fully stocked bar; an entertainment center set up with a television, stereo, and DVD player; and a master bedroom outfitted with a queen-size bed, dual nightstands, and lockers lined with cedar wood.
The veteran captains at Dolphin Landings Charter Boat Center promise tour-takers a 99% chance of spotting bottlenose dolphins during excursions in Boca Ciega Bay. That’s because the bay is home to more than 700 resident Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, along with manatees, and tropical sea birds.
During voyages, guests cruise in comfort on a US Coast Guard–inspected vessel. The boats serve complimentary soft drinks and water, and beer and wine are available for purchase.